The trial of the immediate-past Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose for alleged theft and money laundering opened on Monday with a prosecution witness narrating to the court how a former Minister of State for Defence, Musiliu Obanikoro, helped the ex-governor to move N1.2bn cash from Lagos to Ekiti by loading the cash in three aircraft.
Fayose and a firm, Spotless Nigeria Limited, are being tried by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission before the Federal High Court in Lagos for an alleged N2.2bn fraud.
The anti-graft agency claimed that Fayose used the money for his governorship election in Ekiti State in 2014, adding that he ought to have reasonably known that the funds were proceeds of unlawful activities.
The two defendants were arraigned on October 22, 2018 before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun on 11 counts bordering on criminal breach of trust, theft and money laundering.
They, however, pleaded not guilty.
In a bid to prove the allegations, the EFCC opened its case on Monday, calling four witnesses – all bankers.
The 4th prosecution witness, Mr Damola Otuyena, who identified himself as the Head, Cash and Transit Services, Diamond Bank, narrated to the court how he delivered N1.2bn cash in a bullion van to Obanikoro and his son, Gbolahan, on June 16, 2014 at the private wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport and how the ex-minister loaded the money into about two or three aircraft for onward movement to Ekiti State.
Otuyena said the transaction began when he received instructions from his director, one Premier Oyewo, who said the bank needed to pay N1.2bn cash to some beneficiaries on behalf of a firm, Sylvan McManara, and that he (Otuyena) needed to get the cash ready.
He said the transaction instructions were accompanied with a list of six beneficiaries and how much each should be paid.
He added that the document bearing the instructions was signed by the signatory to the account of Sylvan McManara, who did not write his name and gave instructions that the bank should pay the beneficiaries without demanding their means of identification as he (the unnamed signatory) had waived the beneficiaries’ identifications.
According to Otuyena, the beneficiaries and the amount of money they were to receive were listed as Santuraki Bello, N200m; Yusuf Olama, N120m; Chimenu Njokwu N250m; Josiah Moses N280m; Abubakar Zana, N200m; and Franklin Tolani N150m.
The banker, however, said he waited for the beneficiaries but they did not turn up, and when he informed his director, he was told to proceed to the airport with the money and wait for further instructions.
The witness said, “We then contacted the company that renders the bullion van services to help us move the cash to the airport and it was moved to the private wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport but when we got there, we could not gain access.
“We waited outside. I called my director, he said we should wait, that someone would come to attend to us.
“Soon, he called to say someone was there to give us access. He spoke to a certain Gbolahan Obanikoro by my phone and told me that that was the person that would help us enter the airport. He did and we were able to move the bullion van into the airport.
“After sometime, a person I later identified as Senator Musiliu Obanikoro came and my boss called me and spoke to Obanikoro using my phone and said he was the one to receive the cash and the cash was handed over to him.”
“At the point of handover, they told us not to remove all the cash from the bullion van because they needed to load the cash into aircraft. Two or three aircraft were used to move the cash. When the cash was moved, we left the airport.”
Under cross-examination, by the second defence counsel, Mr Olalekan Ojo (SAN), Otuyena admitted that by virtue of a 2013 McManara board resolution, which was forwarded to Diamond Bank, one Mr Olalekan Ogunseye, was the sole signatory to the firm’s account.
He also admitted that Obanikoro was neither listed as a director nor a shareholder in the firm’s board resolution.
Otuyena, however, insisted that based on the instructions by his director, Obanikoro was the operator of McManara bank account.
He also pointed to a document, showing how Gbolahan Obanikoro requested a Diamond Bank electronic product.
“For his (Gbolahan’s) signature, address and phone number to be on the document, he must be a signatory to McManara’s account,” Otuyena told the court.
He also disagreed with Ojo that there was nothing to show that Obanikoro received N1.2bn from Diamond Bank.
“I do not agree because Exhibit E is purportedly written by the account holder and it is clearly stated that Musiliu Obanikoro is the signatory,” he said.